Deputy Chair Snowboarding , Lt Col Dennis Ledger

The ISSSC 18 Snowboard competition in Meribel was, er, not actually held in Meribel.  The competition was almost solely held in Motteret, which followed on and consolidated the work put in by the organising committee and the resort to reinvigorate the snowboard aspects of the competition. As always the competitors were up to the challenge of showcasing their sport and the all the Men’s and Ladies’ teams were fairly evenly matched

Unlike the previous year there was no shortage of snow, which meant the course and park shapers were able to build some impressively (and dauntingly) large jumps! The first event was the Snowboard cross; two days of clear skies ensured that we would have a fast and competitive event.  As in 2017, this event was the first in the ISSSC programme and the prospect of a decent ski/snowboard to the location encouraged the sponsors to come and watch the event.

With all 3 services represented in the final it was anyone’s guess as to the result.  As it turned out the RAF’s Flt Lt Paddy Morris showed that his form from 2017 has not deserted him and he managed to retain his title, beating the RN’s POET Ben Douglas and LAET Ross Taylor into 2nd and 3rd respectively.  The top spot in the ladies’ competition was taken by the Army’s Maj Jessica Drew, with the RAF’s Sqn Ldr Nat Feeney and the RN’s Lt Lucy Ingram in 2nd and 3rd.

The Parallel Slalom qualifiers were held in Mottaret and the grand floodlit finals were held in of the Stade, Meribel.  The army men continue to show their strength in this event: they managed to take half the knockout final spaces in the qualifiers, while there was a even split between the Ladies

In order to preserve the slope for the other disciplines the course was shortened to the limit of what is in the rules, but it ensured that the competition was fair.  As always, the parallel slalom was a crowd pleaser and with vin chaud and crepes, the finish area was a popular place to be on a Tuesday night in Meribel.  Sgt Kris Looker (Army), back to competing after a couple of years away due to work commitments, rode excellently and reminded us of his talent, but he was unable to match the in-form Flt Lt Paddy Morris, who pushed him onto 2nd place by the narrowest of margins.  Wg Cdr Claire Collis demonstrated why she is the reigning ladies champion, beating Maj Jess Drew into second place.

As always, the 3rd event in programme is the one that attracts the most attention from the competitors: Slopestyle.  The weather was excellent, and the format was tweaked to allow for two separate finals in at DC 43 Snowpark.   In a re-run of the 2017 competition it was Lt Lucy Ingram (RN) and Wg Cdr Claire Collis (RAF) locked in the tightest of ladies’ competitions. This time however it was Wg Cdr Claire Collis who would claim 1st by 1 point.  Flt Lt Lou Page (RAF) took 3rd. The men’s competition continues to improve and minimum gap clearance in the finals was 10 metres, heading up to 14 metres for the top athletes.  The difficulty and shear amplitude of some of the tricks was impressive.  Flt Lt Paddy Morris (RAF) and AB Ian Sanderson put on a superb display of consistent and well executed routines to clinch the 1st and 2nd place respectively, while new-comer SAC(T) Adam Woolley showed he will be a force to be reckoned with in the future, showcasing the best trick – a monster backside melon 7 (for the uninformed – there was a lot of height, many rotations, and it looked really good!) – taking 3rd place and the Nelson Pratt Memorial trophy.

In the women’s overall individual competition the RAF’s Wg Cdr Claire Collis retained her position as the top lady in UKAF Snowboarding, with the Army’s Maj Jess Drew in 2nd and the RAF’s Sqn Ldr Nat Feeney in 3rd. In the men’s competition the RAF’s Flt Lt Paddy Morris was overall champion for the 2nd year running, with the Army’s Sgt Kris Looker second and LAET Ross Taylor (RN) third.  The UK Armed Forces Snowboard overall men’s team competition was won by the RAF, who managed to do so while not actually winning any of the separate events – a first! The Ladies’ team competition was won by the RAF.  It has been some time since the RAF won either of the competitions; to win both the men’s and ladies’ in the RAF centenary year seems very apt.    

Next up was the UKAF team competing at the BRITS at Laax, Switzerland.  This year again provided a strong representation on the National stage from the UK Armed Forces (UKAF) Snowboard Team, made up of 11 riders; 5 men and 6 ladies.

The team continued to benefit from the coaching provided by Mr Barry Parker.  It is the third year he has spent with the UKAF team, but he did have some new team members to bring on.  The weather was inconsistent, but owing to the fantastic freestyle facilities situated in Laax, the team were able to conduct indoor freestyle training again including trampolining, skating and snow flex jumps into large foam pits to enable the progression of high-end tricks without the fear of injury while indoors. Unfortunately, the team suffered two injuries while training outside.  POET Ben Douglas broke his humerus on the first day of training which was disappointing for him on his first time at the Brits.  Lt Lucy Ingram then ruptured her AC joint in her shoulder just before the competitions started in week two; a great shame for the team.

The competitions took place during the period 3 – 5 Apr 18.  As Slope Style and Snowboard Cross are both disciplines in the ISSSC, entry for all [uninjured] team members in these events was compulsory.  The year’s competition saw the return of many of the UK’s current Olympic athletes fresh back from Pyeongchang in both a competitive and supporting capacity.

On the day of the Slope Style competition, the weather was variable with cloud covering the course for much of the time.  This limited training time, but the competition ran as smoothly as possible. The course was similar to previous years with the choice of three boxes or rails, followed by three consecutive jumps with choices again ranging from small, medium and large kickers.  The medium and large jumps were a significant step up from the size of the interservices kickers, and without the benefit of some training time and poor weather, not many attempted the larger jumps. It is noted that not all would be able to attempt these kickers at interservice level, but it offered a fantastic opportunity to those that craved a challenge..

Once again the support and praise received from the British Snowboarding community was encouraging, with GB athletes and Olympians alike. They welcomed the fact that the UKAF team made up a large contingent of competitors at the BRITS and the teams positive attitude and friendliness has since been cited in some worldwide snowboard publications such as Onboard magazine and Whitelines.

Of note there were two UKAF riders selected to compete in the Super Final (6 ladies and 12 men selected overall).  LAET Ross Taylor (RN) was 6th in the Super final and AB Ian Sanderson (RN) was 10th.  It should be noted that in gaining their places they finished as 1st and 3rd in the men’s Masters competition. Wg Cdr Claire Collis (RAF) was the 1st ladies’ master and Flt Lt Lou Page (RAF) was 2nd.

The weather for Snowboard Cross was again intermittent with some fog lingering but clearing as the day went on.  It was a little disappointing to see such a short course that had very little technical features in it.  However, to suit everyone from children and Olympians, the team accepted that the course might need to be easier than the courses we see at the interservices. Everyone managed two qualifications runs before the heats. The team displayed some great determination providing some encouraging results. 

Snowboard Cross brought out a variety of participants including Ski Sunday’s Ed Leigh and a variety of GB squad riders, including Bronze Medallist Billy Morgan. Thankfully all UKAF riders qualified highly in their respective categories, which was again testament to their patience and professionalism during less than ideal conditions.  Special mention should go to AB Ian Sanderson (RN) for finishing 2nd in the Masters competition and Spr Matty Hannah (Army) who managed 4th in the Men’s open category.  Wg Cdr Claire Collis (RAF) was 1st in the Ladies Masters, while Maj Jess Drew (Army) came 4th in the open competition.  However, it was Lt Jo Szczygloska (Army), who stole the show; in her first year at both the ISSSC and Brits competitions, she managed to finish 2nd in the Ladies’ Open competition and in the process beat Olympian Aimee Fuller into 3rd!

 The opportunities that arise from representing at this level are priceless, and the benefit and experience that each sS gains from their selected riders attending is immense.  The overall level of Military Snowboarding continues to develop, and it is hoped that the public’s perception of the military has been enhanced through the team’s demonstration of professionalism, courage and team spirit.

The committee continues to work hard to keep the season going all year around and develop pathways for the officials to run successful and safe championships.  This year UKAF WSA organised the first Military Snowboard Technical Delegates (TDs) forum.  The forum was a healthy mix of new aspirant TDs and Service officials requiring a refresher on the technicalities and procedures required to conduct competitions.  The forum had a good turn out from across the Army, RAF and RN and all passed the exam.  The value of this event should not be underestimated; the ability to execute safe, fair and challenging military competitions requires officials to be suitably qualified and experienced and the forum is a key part in this process.  Special thanks must go to Gp Capt Dave Tozer who has engaged with FIS, snowsportsGB, snowsportsEngland and the 3 Services, to deliver the official training pathway and trailblaze the  UKAF presence in the national governing bodies.